EU Science Hub

Trans fatty acids in Europe: where do we stand?

Trans fatty acids (TFA) are a particular type of unsaturated fatty acid. They are naturally present in food products made from ruminant animals such as dairy and meat from cattle, sheep or goat (naturally occurring ruminant TFA or rTFA) but can also be produced industrially (TFA of industrial origin or iTFA). Consumption of TFA is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that ‘TFA intakes should be as low as is possible within the context of a nutritionally adequate diet'. Denmark was the first country to adopt legislation limiting the content of TFA in foods in 2003. Since 2003, Switzerland (2008), Austria (2009), Iceland (2011), Hungary (2013) and Norway (2014) have legislation in place and now also limit the content of TFA in foodstuffs. EU legislation does not regulate the content of TFA in foodstuffs nor does it require its labelling.The European Parliament and the Council have however requested as part of the recent Regulation (EC) No1169/11 on the provision of food information to consumers that the European Commission (EC) reports on ‘the presence of trans fats in foods and in the overall diet of the Union population’. It is expected that the results can inform further decisions on introducing, at European level, ‘appropriate means that could enable consumers to make healthier food and overall dietary choices or that could promote the provision of healthier food options to consumers, including, among others, the provision of information on trans fats to consumers or restrictions on their use’. This report is a first step in addressing this request. The analysis of the most recent publicly available data confirms reported reduction of TFA in foods but also shows that there are still a number of foods with high levels of TFA (above 2g TFA per 100g of fat) in some European food markets. Results from dietary surveys also indicate that although the overall population TFA intake is below the World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended maximum of 1 E% there are subpopulations exceeding the recommended threshold. As long as products with high TFA content remain in the food market, it is possible that individuals may consume more than the recommended maximum. As it stands, there appears to be room for improvement of the European situation as regards the presence of iTFA in foodstuffs.